Housing for teachers could be incentive in recruiting effort

Abell Foundation to help developer with restoration plan

April 06, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A critical shortage of qualified Baltimore schoolteachers has prompted the Abell Foundation to team with a local developer who plans to renovate a vacant Charles Village apartment building for young teachers.

The Astor Court, at the southwest corner of St. Paul and 25th streets, could become a recruiting tool for school officials looking to attract young people apprehensive about moving to the city.

The idea is as old as the country. Settlers once guaranteed housing for young schoolteachers who would move west to the frontier. It is an idea made relevant recently in Baltimore as the school system redoubles its efforts to recruit the latest crop of young college graduates with teaching degrees.

Last year, 60 percent of the 1,000 teachers hired for the school system lacked the proper professional credentials to become fully state certified.

School officials acknowledge that they have done a poor job recruiting good teacher candidates. School administrators predict that a large number of teachers will retire in the next several years, leaving the city in a competitive fight for qualified teachers just as a national teaching shortage sets in.

"Right now, I think it is a very generous offer to the school system," said Betty Morgan, the city school's chief academic officer who has toured the apartment building and will discuss the idea next week with a committee developing recruiting techniques. "It is another incentive for us to attract the cream of the crop."

Each apartment would rent for about $425 or $450 a month and could be offered to prospective teachers with good credentials or those who agree to sign a contract early.

The rehabilitation, which would be good for the neighborhood as well as the schools, is in the planning stages and would not be ready for its first group of schoolteachers until summer 2000.

Michael Rock and his company, MLR Development Corp., need to secure some of the financing, but the Abell Foundation has agreed to guarantee a portion of the loans needed for the $4 million renovation. Rock said he would hope to get a tax credit for restoring a historic building and loan guarantees from the Federal Housing Administration. He would also seek a small grant from another foundation.

If he used more traditional means of financing, the apartments would rent for more than the average beginning teacher could afford.

Rock said the four-story building, which he owns jointly with St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church nearby on St. Paul Street, became vacant about three years ago, except for a Subway restaurant on the ground floor. It needs new heating, air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems. But the layout of the building, he said, will remain largely the same. The building was constructed in the 1920s and many of the 45 one-bedroom apartments would have wood floors and large windows.

If the plan goes through, teachers living in the apartment building would have parking, a place to hold meetings and a room with computers and resource materials, such as curriculum guides and sample lesson plans.

"What we hear from teachers is their sense of isolation, their need to talk with other teachers, to share stories and provide mutual support," said Robert Embry Jr., president of the nonprofit Abell Foundation, which has paid for many city school initiatives.

The apartment complex would give the teachers a community of friends and neighbors to help them make the transition from their college or university life to the life of a city schoolteacher.

Many young teachers say they leave the school system after two or three years because they get little support, not because they are seeking better pay. The beginning salary for teachers in the city is about $27,000, comparable to other counties. It might go up this year if the school board approves an 11-month contract.

A block of teachers' housing would likely be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, which has been improving in recent years.

"We picked that corner for a variety of reasons -- one is that we want to encourage a movement south from Charles Village," Embry said. "It gets a building fixed up and gets middle-class, good people moving in."

Rock said he has worked in the area for several years and considers it safe.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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